FL citrus forecast: Demand still up for OJ but next crop will be smaller

Demand for Florida OJ surged when coronavirus arrived in the U.S. after years of being overlooked by consumers. Credit: Diane Miller, Getty Images

Consumers’ appetite for Florida-grown orange juice remains relatively strong after surging seven months ago when coronavirus took hold in the United States.

But Florida orange groves still face challenges and expect to produce 15 percent fewer oranges this season, according to federal agricultural estimates.

The newest U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast anticipates Florida will produce 57 million 90-pound boxes of oranges in the 2020-21 season, a decline of nearly 10 million. The USDA also anticipates 7 percent fewer red grapefruit, or 4.5 million boxes for the season.

Sales of OJ surged 41 percent in March as consumers who had come to prefer sports drinks and flavored waters recalled its Vitamin-C-loaded, immunity-boosting power. Sales have slipped since then, but still remain higher than before the pandemic.

California-grown oranges also will be less plentiful than last season, with groves there making 50.5 million boxes compared with 53.3 million, according to the USDA. But Texas, which produces a fraction of the oranges grown in Florida and California, will see an uptick to 1.5 million in the coming season.

Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in a statement announcing the USDA forecasts Friday that growers are making headway in their intense fight against citrus greening, a grove-killing bacteria spread by an Asian insect, and they expect to continue meeting the increased demand for Florida-grown oranges.

“Florida citrus growers are finding success through innovative mitigation efforts to fight citrus greening in their groves,” Shepp stated. “We are optimistic about the conditions of groves, preparations for the coming season’s crop, and continued efforts to combat greening.”

Severe weather and competition from overseas citrus growers have taken a toll on Florida growers, cutting by half the volume of acres in citrus production compared with 20 years ago, according to the Department of Citrus.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried stated that funding for research projects, grove treatments, and marketing will sustain Florida’s signature crop.

“Despite the challenges that Florida’s citrus growers have faced as a result of citrus greening (huanglongbing disease), I continue to be encouraged by the resiliency of this industry, its producers and their commitment to new plantings, research and innovation,” Fried said.

In September, Brazilian citrus growers announced their crop will be nearly 26 percent smaller than last season, a large decline blamed on drought, but still coming in at nearly 287 million boxes.